Full Disclosure: I was paid a consultancy fee by Marston’s to help them look at how to talk about this. That was three months ago and I haven’t been privy to developments since. Despite my previous involvement I have not been paid to write this post – I’m writing it because I believe in the product. But I’m flagging it because I do have an on/off strategic relationship with Marston’s and you should know that before reading this piece.
Without going into too much technical detail, Fast Cask is still cask ale because it has live yeast working in the barrel, conditioning the beer. But that yeast has been put through an innovative process that makes it form beads which do not dissolve into the beer. These beads act like sponges, drawing beer through them to create the secondary fermentation.
What this means is that Fast Cask ale casks can stand a lot rougher treatment than a standard ale cask. They don’t need time to settle, which means they can be delivered to festivals and events that don’t normally have cellaring facilities. If a tapped cask is knocked, moved or even upended, the beer inside will still be clear. When not in use, a cask can be stored on its end, making it much more practical in small, cramped cellars.
The process means the beer no longer requires finings, so cask ale becomes acceptable to vegans.
Casks must still be tapped and vented to allow them to breathe.
Doubtless some ale aficionados will reject this as somehow being not ‘real’ ale because it’s not ‘traditional’.
The conversation I had with Marston’s was about taking a longer term historical view of the development of real ale. People who say traditional cask conditioned real ale as we know it today is ‘beer as it’s always been brewed’ are wrong. Traditional ‘running ales’ have only been around since the late nineteenth century, and were themselves one result of the scientific analysis of the behaviour and properties of yeast – an analysis which was decried by many at the time because it wasn’t ‘traditional’. If that process bore fruit a hundred years ago, it’s difficult to argue why we somehow should stop researching yeast now.
If people would simply rather have traditional cask ale that’s fine – Marston’s have no plans to phase it out, and will be offering Fast Cask alongside traditional cask.
We often talk about how cask ale is a living, breathing thing. Well living, breathing things evolve and grow and develop. Fast Cask is simply the next stage in cask ale’s evolution.
Hopefully it will be accepted as such rather than decried in a rerun of the whole cask breathers debate. Because like cask breathers, it makes no difference whatsoever to the quality or character of the beer. It’s still living, breathing real ale.
And it’s a move that helps spread the appreciation of that ale to people and places it can’t currently reach. Anyone who thinks that’s a bad thing really needs to have a word with themselves.
If you want to try it out, look out for Pedigree and Hobgoblin during Cask Ale Week (29th March to 5th April).
So what do you think? Is this good? Bad? Significant or not? Do you want to taste the beer first and then decide, or have you already made up your mind?